NC authorities reviewing NFL agent's contact with UNC player
By AARON BEARD
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) Investigators are looking into whether an NFL agent violated North Carolina's sports agents law by contacting a Tar Heels football player despite not being registered with the state.
According to a search warrant, the Secretary of State's office sought Facebook records for Tennessee-based agent Brandon Smart. The document states Smart contacted UNC senior offensive lineman R.J. Prince to schedule a time to discuss "the NFL draft process" through an online message last year.
The document also states Prince notified UNC officials, who informed the Secretary of State's office on Nov. 15. The office began an investigation on Dec. 6, with the search warrant referencing two other attempts by Smart to directly contact UNC athletes in 2015 and 2017.
Smart didn't immediately return a call or email Wednesday from The Associated Press.
"We think UNC handled this matter properly and we appreciate the contact they gave us," Secretary of State's office spokesman George Jeter told the AP. "We are obviously looking into this matter."
The North Carolina Secretary of State's office began investigating whether sports agents were violating the state's Uniform Athlete Agents Act in summer 2010 amid an NCAA investigation into the Tar Heels football program. The case led to a former agent pleading guilty in April for providing thousands of dollars in improper benefits to three former UNC players to entice them into signing contracts with him.
UNC launched its Agent and Advisor Program in response to the 2010 investigations. It requires agents to notify the athletics department before contacting athletes and athletes must notify the school if an agent violates that procedure.
The search warrant states UNC officials left Smart a message in July 2015 about the UNC policy and the state's agent law after learning Smart had contacted an athlete without notifying the athletics department. It states UNC officials spoke with Smart in April 2017 to "again remind him" due to Smart "again reaching out" to a UNC athlete.
The search warrant issued Friday seeks records from July 1, 2015 through Oct. 31, 2017.
Two people still face criminal charges from the Secretary of State's office original investigation. One of those, Christopher Hawkins , faces a charge for improperly contacting former UNC player Jabari Price through Instagram in 2013 without being registered with the state as an agent.
As with this case, Price told UNC officials, who then notified investigators.
"I think this shows our student-athletes are trusting the process we've established in providing information about people who try to compromise that structure," UNC associate athletic director Paul Pogge told the AP. "We fully support the efforts of the Secretary of State's office to uphold the laws of the state of North Carolina."
The law prohibits illegally luring collegiate athletes into contracts by providing them money, gifts or other items of value. It also seeks to regulate sports agent conduct by requiring them to register with the state. A version of the law has been enacted in at least 40 states along with the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands, though its structure and penalties can vary from state to state.
Efforts are underway across the country to adopt a strengthened version of the law because cases have long been difficult to prosecute due to limited resources and modest penalties. In North Carolina, it is a low-level felony that would typically lead to probation for anyone who doesn't have a criminal record if they plead guilty or are convicted.
A Florida-based sports agent is contesting a fine in Tennessee of more than $25,000 for representing a pitching prospect from the state before registering with the Tennessee Secretary of State's office. A ruling is pending in that case.
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Updated January 17, 2018